I’m Getting Sick and Tired of United’s Approach to Transcon Upgrades

There are 18 open first class seats on the seatmap of a mid-day 757 (the flight shows F9).

It’s within the 1K upgrade window. It’s within the Premier Executive upgrade window. There were no upgrade seats available before the 1K window, and there still aren’t. Do they really expect to sell possibly 75% of the cabin in the next 3 days?

Sometime around August of last year United just about stopped making advance upgrade inventory available on its flighs between Washington-Dulles and California. There’s the occasional flight with a solo upgrade seat, the occasional redeye with more than one, but advance upgrades on transcons seem to be a thing of the past to and from DC.

Connecting flights, e.g. Dulles or National to the West Coast via Chicago or Denver, are much more confirmable in advance.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. It has little or nothing to do with the number of available seats. It has everything to do with the person that will pay for a first class seat if a confirmed upgrade isn’t available. It sucks for the frequent flyer who never pays for F (like me) but it makes a lot of sense for UA.

    At least, it does if they assume that they are not going to lose too much business because confirmed upgrades are harder to find. available.

  2. Beyond the uncertainty, why is this such an issue? Is it the concern that others with more seniority will sweep them up before you have a shot at them (whereas you could lock them up earlier)? Isn’t an upgrade a bonus, a nice unexpected increase in legroom you really have no right to expect as an entitlement? Right?

    I have long legs. Either I book First Class, select an aisle and show up early to try and get an exit row, or resign myself to my fate, and hope for the best.

    I don’t get your comments? Are you traveling simply to get an upgrade? Or are you actually traveling somewhere for a purpose?


  3. I recently got SAN-IAD (A320) and IAD-SFO (new config 767) confirmed about three weeks out. I must have been lucky.

  4. I think you are going to see more and more of this on all airlines. Airlines aren’t willing to let the seats basically go for zero profit if they can hold out for a person who may purchase that seat as a sure thing. I don’t mind that they do it as long as upgrades are still cleared eventually by status even if it is a nailbiter upgrade in the last 24 hours.

  5. I flew SAN-IAD on New Years Day on a 757. 3 of 24 seats were confirmed in advance. Yet I, as a 1K, did not clear, not even the prior night before arriving at the airport at 7am.

    The agent claimed this was UA’s way of handling an oversale in coach. By blocking the F seats, that kept UA from continuing to sell coach and creating even more of an oversale.

    In my opinion, all UA succeeds in doing is frustrating high tier travelers.

  6. Carol, on New Years Day??? Lotta paid first class business travel going on then..

    Wouldn’t they handle the oversell just as well by upgrading their 1Ks in coach in advance, freeing up those seats in coach to sell? I don’t see how holding back the upgrades rather than processing them makes more coach seats available. There are still the same # of overall seats on the plane..

  7. It’s an issue because I have a choice of flights and airlines and will alter my travel patterns within a certain range of flights in order to maximize my comfort.

    It’s an issue because United promises advance cconfimrable upgrades as a benefit in exchange for flying a certain amount, but in recent times has not been delivering on that commitment in a reasonable way.

  8. Oh, and the same phenomenon has appeared internationally, where despite United’s desire to sell seats rather than upgrade the upshot is that people who are going to buy a premium seat are better off buying that seat *on another (better) carrier*…

  9. Depends on where you are going in California (or the west coast for that matter), why not take a connector through JFK and take p.s. instead? Advance upgrade availability has been excellent lately – probably because very few people are buying full fare C or F, especially at p.s. prices.

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